Why I Am Choosing to #DoMoreForWildlife

I was born in the late 1980s in a small log house built by my father on the edges of the Mississippi River in a small village called Appleton. My mother, a young Inuit woman from the northern tips of Canada decided to have me at home despite the push back she received from surrounding communities and western medical professionals. To top off my welcoming into this world, none other than Betty-Anne Daviss (Google her), my parents’ midwife, caught me as I took my first breathe.

Perhaps being born into a circle of activists set me on this path of environmentalism and fighting for a more compassionate world, or maybe this became my path due to the life I have lived. Either way, I’m here to share my story so I can hopefully inspire you to do more: more for our communities, more for our planet and more for our wildlife.

What you may or may not know is that we’re all connected, whether you live in a city, a town, a village, or alone in the woods, we all share our next breath on the same planet, together. And when one of is suffering, that suffering will find its way to all of us, even if we don’t feel it immediately. We have a moral obligation to our future generations to start taking better care of our planet.

Haley connecting with nature

I can’t tell you exactly when the moment of urgency happened for me. I grew up in northern Canada among First Nations and Inuit communities and then back to our nation’s capital where I had a mix of small town and city experiences. I’ve shared moments with wolves, bears, whales, birds, amphibians and insects of all sorts — all interactions made me appreciate them. Situations like this gave me a profound respect for the animals that guard and guide us, even when we’ve stepped onto their territory. My university degree allowed me to learn about every environmental issue there was and unpack how we got here as a global community. Through all of this, the confirmation of our interconnectedness on this planet was written into my DNA.

What I can tell you is that we all live on this beautiful planet together and it’s up to us to take care of it. The health of our wildlife reflects the health of us and the scariest part is that we need them and we might lose them. Wildlife take care of everything. They offer us pollination so that we have many foods and different medicines.  They also help to largely shape the landscape so that we have healthy forests, fields, rivers and oceans.

More than half of the oxygen we breathe comes from our oceans. Yes, you read that right. Marine photosynthesizers like phytoplankton and seaweed use carbon dioxide, water and the energy from the sun to make food which then releases oxygen! This is just one example of many that reflects how irreplaceable our wildlife.

So let’s return the favour and make a promise to do more; do more for the wildlife that provide us with nutritious food, healthy forests and clean oceans.

I’ve made the promise, will you?

Learn more about how you can make a promise, too #DoMoreForWildlife

Big Little Lies

When it comes to wildlife, we’ve believed some pretty silly things over the years.

If you cross your eyes they might stay that way. If you swallow gum it’ll stay in your stomach for seven years. How many silly lies have you believed in your life? Well there are plenty of lies we’ve been told about wildlife that many people still believe.

We’re here to set the record straight.

MYTH #1: Bat poo will make you sick.


Not true! So many people blame bats when a lot of different poo can make you sick. The fact of the matter is that the fungal spores that cause histoplasmosis (a lung infection) can be found in all sorts of poo. Yes that includes bat poo (also called guano) but also human, horse, dog, cattle, cat, bird, skunk, rat and opossum feces as well! You wouldn’t kick Fido out for that, would you? Truthfully, when you come into contact with any decaying organic material, you’re at risk of harming your health.

MYTH #2: If you touch a baby bird, its parents will abandon it.

eagle chick

Birds don’t ditch their young just because someone touched them. It doesn’t seem like birds recognize their young by smell in the first place. But that’s not because they have a terrible sense of smell, like some people think. Research is definitely showing otherwise. It is now known that turkey vultures and seabirds actually have a well-developed sense of smell. And research on zebra finches show that these songbirds use smell to recognize relatives.

MYTH #3:  If you touch a toad, you’ll get warts.

american toad

Really? Errrr…I hate to break it to you but it’s the grubby shower floors at your local gym that’s given you those lovely plantar warts, not toads. Toads might look bumpy but that’s just their skin! Some toads have bumpy skin that actually releases toxins to keep predators at bay.

MYTH #4: Bats are blind

Bats can see very well, thank you very much. I think people most often get confused on this point because they know most bats are reliant on echolocation to make their way. Since most bats can’t see in the dark, when they are most active, they rely on their built in sonar system to navigate at incredibly high speeds in absolute darkness!

MYTH #5: Sharks can smell a drop of blood from miles away.

blood in water and shark

Sharks absolutely use their sense of smell to sniff out prey. But you’re going to have to bleed a heck of a lot more to get their attention. A drop of blood might attract a shark if it was living in a small swimming pool, but not in the vast ocean.


5 Activities to Do With Trees

When you have the chance to look at a tree with a child, or even by yourself for that matter, there are many ways you can focus your attention.

You can admire its beauty, examine its role in that ecosystem, stimulate imagination or you can get artsy by creatively incorporating it into crafts. Here are some ideas for some of your nature walks.

1. Tree Bark or Leaf Rubbing

Leaf rubbing @CWF

Put a sheet of paper against the side of a tree and, with a crayon, rub up and down to reveal the bark’s pattern in colour! If you want to do a large area and don’t have a lot of time, either use wide crayons or remove the paper off regular crayons and use the long side for a larger surface area. Compare the differences in the leaf rubbing to see if you can spot patterns between other tree species or the different heights along the trunk.

For leaves that will fall later this year, collect and press them so they don’t dry curled up. After a few days or weeks (before they get too dry and brittle) put the leaves under a sheet of paper and make rubbings for fun, as a journal or as a picture for decoration.

2. Walk or Climb on Fallen Trees

kids outside walking along a fallen tree

Caveat: only ones that you feel are safe to use (sturdy, free of lots of prickly branches etc.)! This is both fun and great for developing balance and confidence. If need be, hold the children’s hands until they feel comfortable doing it themselves.

3. Observe Leaf Shapes

Leaves do more than just make oxygen and make lovely sounds in a breeze. Leaf shapes (or even leaf buds in the colder months) can help identify a tree species and sharpen observation skills.

4. Imagine

woman standing by lake

Imagine what it must feel like to be a tree with roots grounding you into the earth and branches raised high up to the sky. Pretend to be a tree and feel connected to the earth and sky.

For very young children this might be enough. For older children get them thinking about the role of a tree. How are the roots helping (they stabilize soil) ? How are the branches helping (they are homes for animals and leaves help make the air we breathe)? How does the trunk help (they provide wood for furniture, houses, paper, tissues and toilet paper as well as homes for cavity nesting animals) ?

5. Sit Under or Near a Tree for a Period of Time

girl outside sitting under trees

A few minutes would do for a young child, but longer for older participants. While one can do this activity anywhere, there is something about trees that can help a person slow down and be fully present. You can simply use this time to quiet the mind, becoming calm and present. Or you can use this time to engage all your senses to notice what is happening around you and wonder why that is so.

For instance, are there animals singing or scampering about or are they quiet and still? If there is a breeze, do different leaves move differently? Perhaps they have a different shape to catch the wind or their leaf stem is longer or narrower allowing them to move differently (as with Trembling Aspens). Is the tree trunk smooth or bumpy on their back? Is there sun on their face or are they in the cool shade?

Liked this? Get more educational resources from The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s website.

Herbs for Wildlife — Planting Edible Herbs for You and Wild Neighbours!

Each year I grow herbs, mainly for me but a little for wildlife, too.

For my part, I enjoy their fragrance when rubbing leaves between my fingers. I enjoy seeing their varied colours and textures on the deck and in the garden beds. And, of course, I enjoy tasting their lovely flavours.

There is something so satisfying about making a meal and simply popping outside to pick fresh basil for a pizza, parsley for a salad or lemon thyme for tea. I also like to dry my own herbs so I have lovely vibrant green herbs in my jars during the winter rather than the brownish herbs you often find in stores.

hoverfly herb

But I also get satisfaction when I leave some stems to go to flower as I know their tiny blooms are useful for loads of pollinators. From flower flies to little blue bees, they all come and work busily amongst my flowers.

I have a large oregano patch that has prolific clusters of pinky purple flowers that always seems to be full of insects. I tend to leave most of the patch alone, harvesting only a section of it for myself. But even a small pot of basil with a few flowers can help our insect allies.

The Caterpillar Connection

swallowtail caterpillar herb

Then there are plants like dill, fennel and parsley that are not only useful for their flowers but Black Swallowtail caterpillars enjoy the leaves as much as we do. If you are willing to share your plant then you will likely get to enjoy the experience of young caterpillars growing and then the final stage of a magnificent butterfly to grace your garden, even if it is only for a short time.

In this case, if you are concerned about not having any leaves for yourself, you can grow or buy extra plants or start a second crop a few weeks after you planted the first. If you are buying plants, you can always keep a few plants in a screened in area if you have one.

Of course, it’s best if you have lots of nectar plants for the adult butterflies to enjoy. Include annuals such as zinnias and calendula or perennials like milkweeds, Echinaceas, Monardas (Wild Bergamot and Bee Balm) and Joe-pye Weeds.

Growing Herbs

Growing herbs can be quite simple as most are happy with a big enough pot in full sun. Be sure to water daily, especially for plants like Basil and those in smaller pots that dry out more easily. Some will like fertilizing so add a bit of compost to your soil mix when planting.

bee herb

When it turns cold, some herbs survive the winter in my garden, like Oregano and Lemon Balm. Tender plants, however, need to come inside to a sunny window sill in order to live another year.

The Importance of Proper Window Placement

As the days are shorter in the winter, the sun becomes more important than ever. I’ve learned the hard way that I just don’t have the windows suited to help them all survive the cold for seven months. In one house I didn’t have enough space with windows that get full sun. In another house I had the window but with a baseboard heater below which meant my plants were between extremes of temperature, overriding the lovely sunny spot. So typically, I only bring inside my one Rosemary plant. The rest, like Basil and Thyme, I start from scratch each year.

Learn more about edible plants and how to garden for wildlife.

How Do Animals Communicate?

Sounds aren’t the only way species communicate with each other

Birds will chirps, wolves will howl, ducks will quack and owls will hoot…but what about other ways of communicating? Take a look below at the incredible world of non-verbal communications!

There was something in the air that night

Ever wonder how all the ants just seem to know when there’s a piece of food on the ground? That’s because when an ant finds a new food source, it will release pheromones near it and along its path to help direct its fellow ant-friends to the food source. When the food source is almost gone, they stop releasing pheromones to let the scent trail fade away.

We all know that when Pepé Le Pew feels threatened, it will defend itself by spraying a special eau de skunk spray towards the predator. This is the skunk’s non-verbal way of communicating to those around to stay far, far away!

Wolves mark their territories with urine and scats to warn other wolves this area is already occupied and to move along. Not only this, but they use a variety of non-verbal body language such as facial expressions, and body movement and positions to convey the rules of the pack and exert their dominance.

So you think you can dance

sunflower beesBees will return to the hive to tell other bees that it found that sweet pot of nectar by performing a bee waggle dance to indicate the location. The dance is interpreted by other bees through touch in darkness, inside the nest. Could the bee waggle be the next fortnite floss dance phenomenon? We sure hope so!

Touted as one of nature’s greatest dancers, the Greater Sage Grouse sure know how to strut their stuff to impress that special lady. They show off their dashing good looks by puffing themselves up and popping their air sacs on their chest in and out. This is one dance you must Google right now.

Courting pairs of Whooping Cranes are also best known for their dance performance. They perform an elegant and elaborate dance display that involves leaping, flapping their wings and tossing their heads. Sign this duo up for So You Think You Can Dance pronto!

It’s all in the flick

fawn deer and skunk

 The tail of a deer is more than just a tail – it can tell you what the deer is feeling. Deer will wag their tails if relaxed and feel no imminent threat. Things start to change at the half-mast, a tail that is halfway up. It’s the first sign that something just doesn’t feel right. Then there is the flare when their tail is sitting straight up, and this means they are on alert and know that there is danger around. And finally, they perform the warning flicks. These are fast and they’re telling others to get ready to make a run for it.

A squirrel’s tail does more than just help them with their balance. It’s a way to communicate! When squirrels see something that makes them feel a bit uneasy it will wag its tail and do tail flashing to let their fellow squirrels-mates know. When squirrels approach a member of the opposite sex, its tail will tremble or have shivering like motions to help draw attention to itself.

Slapping good time


We know Dolphins make those famous whistles and clicks sounds to communicate to others and to determine their locations, but they communicate in so many more ways! Dolphins will often slap its tail and flippers on water producing a loud sound to get the attention of others in the area.

Friend or foe? Only a kiss can tell

prairie dog

Greeting kisses are an important way of communication for Prairies Dogs. It may appear like their kissing, instead they’re actually baring their teeth and pressing mouths together to see if they are friends in the same social group or foes. If they are friends, then it’s business as usual, but if it’s a foe, they’ll fight it out.

They Came From Below

Kilometres beneath our feet, deep in cracks under the Earth’s continents lives a vast, secret world of microbes

Every now and again, science comes up with a finding so revolutionary that it shakes up the way the rest of us see our planet. Those moments are pretty rare. I can point to only a handful in my life, including the time a very patient theoretical physicist from the California Institute of Technology explained quantum field theory to me. (Thanks, Sean Carroll!) I could never see the world the same way after that.

These are not the incremental — but important — findings that sharpen what we already know, like the news that more methane than ever is seeping out of Arctic permafrost, for example. Or that sea stars are melting like papier mâché, victims of a ferocious wasting disease. They are not like the discovery of a new species or the news flash that a creature once endangered has come back from the brink or the welcome research showing how an animal is adapting to planetary change.

These are the mind-blowers. And one showed up on my doorstep late last year.

It turns out that kilometres beneath our feet, nestled deep in crustal cracks under the Earth’s continents and far below the seabed floor lives a vast, secret world of microbes.


Most are strangers to science. But because of novel scientific drilling techniques and DNA sequencing, scientists are beginning to find them. It’s all part of the Deep Carbon Observatory project that has been going on for about a decade, run by hundreds of scientists across dozens of countries.

They’ve come up with a bunch of ways to describe this newly discovered part of the planet: microbial dark matter. The Galapagos of the deep. The life of the Stygian sphere. The creatures themselves are mainly bacteria and single-celled archaea (microbes with no nucleus). And they are weird. Far weirder than their relatives on the surface. These fellows survive the underworld equivalent of fire and brimstone. They live under unimaginable pressure in high-temperature extremes long believed inimical to life. They manage with no light and almost no food, some nourished only by the meagre energy shed by rocks.

Some individuals seem to have existed for millions or even tens of millions of years trapped in a state of suspended animation. It’s like something out of science fiction. They don’t divide or grow. They are barely alive. How do they do it? Are they zombies, never capable of revival? Or are they just in purgatory, waiting for the moment when they can spring back to full life? Scientists don’t have a clue.

What they do know is that there are a lot of these microbes of the netherworld. Scientists calculate that 70 per cent of the planet’s bacteria and archaea live in these underground lairs. That means there are more inside the Earth’s crust than on top of it.

This space, dubbed the “deep biosphere,” is twice as big as the volume of the vast global ocean, making it the biggest ecosystem on the planet.

And it’s a massive carbon store. There’s so much life hidden in the innermost reaches of the crust that it contains anywhere from 245 times to 385 times more carbon than that held in all the humans now alive. Not only that, but these odd creatures are similar no matter which part of the planet’s deep recesses scientists sample. What’s underneath Seattle, Washington, is similar to what’s underneath South Africa.

So what does it mean? For one thing, it’s likely to redraw the tree of life, the schematic showing which species evolved from which. Is this dark world where life on our planet originated? Or did life seep into the crust from the surface and then evolve into wholly new forms?

Can these communities of underworld microbes move? Do they rely on earthquakes or tectonic plate movements in any way? Are they affected by waste products that humans are injecting into the deep Earth?

Perhaps most intriguingly, how are these new microbes connected to their cousins on the surface, if at all? Are they part of the planet’s biological cycles? Geological cycles? Chemical ones?

So far, we don’t have the answers. But isn’t it intoxicating to think of all that life underneath us, going about its business for millions of years, maybe influencing how our lives unfold? What else don’t we know?

How To Set Up a Natural Playground

Including natural elements in a playground is now considered the best thing we can do for our kids.

Children themselves say the spaces are more fun. It is evident that they play better and have more natural team building as well as enhanced learning in having more to do themselves.

building a natural playground @david derocco
© CWF | David DeRocco

Advice From the Professionals

But don’t just take our word for it! Adam Bienenstock and his highly respected team at Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds are inspiring positive change, supporting educators and creating “nature-based playspaces around the world.”

“As a kid, nature was everywhere — it was part of us and it was fun,” says Adam. “Play is the greatest teacher. The more sensory rich the play, the better the lesson. A natural playground is the perfect venue for children’s minds to expand and their immune systems to grow strong.”

We need to stop looking at contact with nature as a problem to be fixed and start looking at contact with nature as a solution to the problems we must solve. ~ Adam Bienenstock

@ Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds
© Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds

Adam says: “These great tips will help you and your kids have a blast — you don’t even need to tell them that it’s good for them!”

  • Include what natural materials are at hand – straw bales in the fall, slices from an old tree as stepping stones or building pieces, some sturdy sticks for making a teepee or lean-to and hanging rope from a strong tree branch.
  • Partner with locals such as a hydro or tree removal for chipped mulch below play structures and retired carpentry teachers, wood working groups or high school woodworking classes to help make structures.
  • If you have a budget consider adding larger elements like a sand pit.
  • Involve all players including all teachers, administrative and grounds staff etc. in the planning as well as exploring solutions to problems that arise.
  • Encourage positive involvement from parents by explaining how the benefits outweigh any risks and give them options to minimize distrust and maximize participation. For example, do they want their child to have a change of clothing for playtime.

In the Field

These two videos from three UK schools and an American child care offer wonderful insights into how they changed their outdoor play area. They also outline the many benefits noted by all adults involved with behavior, mental states, physical abilities and learning.

For instance, children began naturally using mathematics in building and organizing items. They looked forward to going to school! Imagination and desire to play, move and create increased and boundaries between the ages dropped.

While supervisors need to be actively engaged, they found the environment to be more peaceful – to the point that their own enjoyment in the experience increased.

Did you do this at your playground? Do you have tips or resources to share? Please comment below!

URGENT: Help Protect Ontario’s Endangered Species Act

The deadline for public comments is March 4, 2019.

The Ontario government is reviewing its Endangered Species Act. But so far, the review appears to focus on making the act more efficient for economic development rather than improving outcomes for wildlife and habitat. Your voice can make a difference. But you must speak up now!

The Ontario Endangered Species Act is a last line of defence against extinction in an era that scientists have termed the sixth mass extinction on the planet.

Canada’s wildlife depends on innovative regulations, policies, and programs that make conservation of species at risk the primary goal.

Stronger and more effective action is the key to protection and recovery of Ontario’s endangered species and providing clarity for business, not building further holes in the Endangered Species Act.  The Act already contains exemptions and permits for industry and the need for permits has been removed entirely for some activities that negatively impact species at risk.

The government wants to hear from people on four aspects of protecting endangered species that they pose as challenges to economic development.

Here’s what we think:

1. Landscape Approaches

We support recovering species by looking at the entire landscape and taking actions that will contribute the most to improving habitat and protecting species from harm; however, care must be taken to ensure the individual needs of each species are still taken into account. There are situations where a species-specific approach is still warranted.

2. Species Listing Process and Protections

The ability of the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO) to determine the status of species, independent of government, is essential to the proper functioning of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Improved communication and transparency in all aspects of species assessment and protection is warranted to provide clarity for the public and business.

Habitat loss or degradation is a primary cause for species decline. Automatic protection, combined with clear communication on where impacts can and cannot occur, would protect species while providing certainty of what to expect for economic development.

3. Species Recovery Policy and Habitat Regulations

Delays and inaction are detrimental to species while at the same time providing little economic certainty since business is uninformed of the parameters under which they must operate.  What is needed for species and economic development is for government to focus resources on quickly providing the framework for protecting habitat and taking action.

4. Permitting Processes

We are in favour of consistent application and streamlining of decisions, which must also include decisions to deny a permit for an activity that would harm a species or its habitat. Permits allowing harm to endangered species or their habitat poses considerable risk so need to come with strict conditions. Extinction is permanent.

What you can do

Let the Ontario government know you want strong protection for Species at Risk in Ontario, which means a prioritization on conserving species at risk and the habitats they depend on through improved implementation of the Endangered Species Act in its current form.

Post your comment on the Environmental Registry by March 4, 2019
Post Your Comment

You can use all or part of CWF’s position as outlined above or craft your own response.

Protect Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. Protect Wildlife. Our economy will benefit by clear regulations, swift responses and improved communications, not by delays and exemptions in applying the Ontario Endangered Species Act, which is a critical backstop against extinction.

Find out more about endangered species in Ontario and CWF’s conservation efforts:

Scrambled Eggs: What Shell Colour Tells Us

Our understanding of dinosaurs today makes what we knew 50 years ago primitive.

Decades ago, all we had to learn about dinosaurs and their lives was fossils: bones, tracks and teeth. Today we have chemistry. In a recent study, U.S. and German researchers Jasmina Wiemann, Tsu-Ruei Yang and Mark Norell report using high-resolution Raman microspectroscopy to reveal that the first animals to lay coloured eggs were not birds, but dinosaurs.

That we even have dinosaur eggs — in nests — is startling enough, but having the ability to analyze the pigments in them is several steps beyond. Wiemann and Norell point out that there are two egg pigments, one red-brown, the other blue-green, and the presence and patterning of the two account for the range of birds’ eggs seen today.

Today, only birds’ eggs are coloured and/or speckled. Turtles, alligators and other egg-layers lay white eggs, but they’re buried, unseen by egg-stealers. Birds’ eggs are deposited above ground, usually in some sort of nest, leaving them open to predation. While nests can be hidden, coloration is assumed to provide, at least in many cases, some sort of camouflage.

Given that at least some dinosaurs’ eggs were coloured in the same way, it’s reasonable to assume these eggs were also laid above ground, not under it. This in turn implies that the eggs would be guarded or incubated by the adult, conjuring up a slightly hilarious image of a mammoth dinosaur settling gingerly on a “nest” full of eggs. Crunch! Yet that wouldn’t appear to be an issue: for one thing, some of these egg-layers were not the size of the most familiar dinosaurs but rather smallish, graceful animals. As well, a variety of dinosaur egg clutches have been found arranged in a doughnut- like circle, apparently to allow the animal to plunk most of its weight directly on the bare ground, while still providing enough warmth to the eggs packed closely around it.

This is fascinating insight into the life of these animals, which lived 100 million years ago, but there is much more to wonder about. When it comes to birds’ egg camouflage today, predation is not the only concern. Nest parasitism is too. Many species around the world lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and let them do the parenting. In North America, the brown-headed cowbird is the villain.

Up until the 20th century, cowbirds made a very good living following the herds of bison in western North America. The bison flattened vegetation and stirred up the insects on which the cowbirds fed. But following moving herds is a problem for reproduction. If cowbirds made a nest, laid their eggs and incubated them, the herd would be long gone. Instead, the birds adapted to the situation by laying their eggs in other birds’ nests, then moving on with the herd.

Even with the near-extermination of the bison at the end of the 19th century, cowbirds didn’t miss a step. They switched to cattle and also, because of clearing of forests, found new species to parasitize at forest edges. As a result, their populations have boomed.


It’s an evolutionary war between cowbirds and their victims: some species recognize the cowbird egg and will either toss it or, if there are two eggs, simply abandon their nest and start over. Some warblers will even build a second nest on top of the first. But they’re still susceptible: the cowbird nestling will usually hatch a little earlier than the others, grow faster and eventually dominate the nest. It is startling to see an adult warbler dutifully feeding a young cowbird twice its size, unaware of the obvious (to us) mismatch.

Back to the dinosaurs. If dinosaurs laid eggs on the ground in the open air, and if those eggs were patterned and coloured to be camouflaged, surely there would have been dinosaurian nest parasites as well as predators?

I have no idea how we might ascertain the truth of this, but the mind boggles when you imagine any of the scenarios that might run parallel to what we see today: a dinosaur waiting patiently beside a nest until the incubating parent leaves briefly, then jumping in and depositing a few eggs, then leaving. Or, a dinosaur squeezing in beside the incubating parent and depositing its eggs without even bothering to wait. Or, an intruder dashing in, consuming some of the eggs and replacing them with its own.

The dinosaurs are gone, but their behaviours might still be with us.

Reprinted from Canadian Wildlife magazine. Get more information or subscribe now! Now on newsstands! Or, get your digital edition today

A Good Start for Monarchs

The overwintering Monarch population in Mexico has increased. Let’s help them when they make their trip home to Canada!

The monarch butterfly boasts a 4,000 kilometre migratory trek – that’s 95 marathons! They begin their journey in the north, at the end of summer or early autumn. While western Monarchs aim to overwinter in California’s pine, cypress and eucalyptus trees, Monarchs east of the Rockies head to Mexico’s oyamel fir forests for the winter months.

Losses and Gains

The overall Monarch population has declined about 90 per cent since the 1990s. The Monarch was assessed as Endangered in Canada in 2016 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada (COSEWIC).  The federal government has not yet decided whether to accept this recommendation and list the species officially as Endangered.

However, a recent count has shown that after years of declines, the number of Monarchs in the Mexican wintering area has increased.

© Donna Cook

“The latest assessments in Mexico show that 14 colonies of overwintering butterflies occupied a total area of 6.05 hectares of the oyamel fir forest,” says Carolyn Callaghan, Senior Conservation Biologist, Terrestrial Wildlife with the Canadian Wildlife Federation “This is a 144 per cent increase over the 2018 result, and the highest area recorded since 2006.”

The World Wildlife Fund Mexico in collaboration with partner organizations has been conducting the annual assessment of the oyamel fir forest since 1995.

The observed increase is thought to be due to favorable weather conditions across the eastern range throughout the spring, summer and fall of 2018. It may also be due in part to recent widespread and large-scale efforts across the US to restore thousands of hectares with milkweed and nectar plants.

“This is a much-needed and promising result indicating that Monarch did have the good year that many of us observed in southern Canada. However, millions of hectares of Monarch habitat have been lost in recent decades due to increases in herbicide use, changes in agriculture and other development. If positive Monarch population trends are to continue, then Canada needs to do its part in improving Monarch habitat at a landscape scale.”

Canadian Habitat is Key

A recent study using stable isotopes showed that a significant percentage of the Monarchs overwintering in Mexico originated in southern Canada. Yet Canada lags far behind in recovery efforts for the beleaguered species, says Callaghan.

Habitat restoration is already happening across the United States, where thousands of hectares of roadsides and utility corridors are being planted with milkweed and other nectar-bearing wildflowers to act as both breeding areas and fuel stops for migrating butterflies. State and federal departments of transportation, energy and agriculture are all actively involved.

The roadsides and utility corridors are also mowed and sprayed less, providing cost savings as well as crucial habitat for Monarch and many other pollinating insects. And now governments in the US are providing support for farmers to grow milkweed and nectaring plants to help the Monarch recover.

“CWF and dedicated partners are working hard to improve and increase habitat for Monarch in eastern Ontario,” she says. “We are hoping to expand our pilot project to help restore more of the migration network in southern Canada. With support from the Ontario Trillium Foundaton and the partnership of HydroOne, Lanark County, and the National Capital Commission, we are making habitat gains. With the partnership from the federal and provincial governments, we can play our part in restoring the Monarch migration network across the whole breeding range.” And that really would be good news for Monarchs.

Learn more about how CWF is helping the Monarch Butterfly and how you can get involved.